Here’s how it happened:
Zagitova Takes the Lead From Medvedeva
Alina Zagitova, the gritty 15-year-old who beat Evgenia Medvedeva earlier this season, also made no mistakes in a program set to music from “Black Swan,” with Swan Lake interpolated. Saving her big jumps until later in the program added a few points, and it took her technical score 2 points past her countrywoman. Just saving that combo until near the end was huge: she scored 13.71 versus 11.96 for Medvedeva.
That overcame a small edge in the subjective scores for Medvedeva. Zagitova led overall by 1.31 points, which is such a small margin that either skater could easily break away in the high-scoring free skate.
Osmond Jumps into Contention
Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada put her triples right at the top of her program, skated to Edith Piaf, and like her predecessors, landed them. Good enough for second, about 2 points behind Evgenia Medvedeva. Next up is the biggest threat to Medvedeva, the 15-year-old wunderkind, Alina Zagitova.
Miyahara Lands Her Jumps, but Trails Medvedeva
Satoko Miyahara of Japan, skating to “Memoirs of a Geisha,” matched Medvedeva by landing her jumps. Her technical score was more than 5 points lower however, and was only good for second place.
Medvedeva Solidly in First Place … for Now
Evgenia Medvedeva, the world champion from Russia and the favorite, saved her triples till later in the program in order to start with an expressive camel spin and step sequence to Chopin. But when the jumps came, she nailed them. Her score of 81.61, including 9-plus in all in the subjective categories, puts her eight points ahead of the field and sets a high mark for the others to hit.
Top Six Skaters Are Next
Kaori Sakamoto of Japan was the leader after 24 skaters. But the final six included all the heads of state of the competition, including the two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedeva, at 18 the Russian team’s elder stateswoman. Her brilliant 15-year-old teammate, Alina Zagitova will also be a medal contender, as will world silver medalists Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada and Satoko Miyahara of Japan. Add in the ageless veteran Carolina Kostner, plus a third Russian teen, Maria Sotskova.
Chen Also Fails to Complete Clean Routine
The third American, 18-year-old Karen Chen, put a hand down on the first jump of her triple-triple combo and could not complete it. So no American woman produced a clean routine. With eight big-name skaters to go, the U.S. skaters stood in third (Nagasu), fourth (Chen) and fifth (Tennell).
Nagasu Falls During Tough Program
Mirai Nagasu of the United States could not ace her triple-rich program set to Chopin. Her first jump was the toughest, a triple axel, and she ended it on the ice. But she recovered to nail her flip-toeloop and that extra triple, the loop. Even with the fall, the difficulty was off the charts, and Nagasu wound up in second, temporarily behind Kaori Sakamoto of Japan.
“I think I overshot it,” Nagasu said of the missed triple axel. “I kind of landed it, then I kind of fell and ended taking the fall. But it was a fight. You win some and you lose some, and today isn’t my day.”
Sakamoto Grabs the Top Spot
Finally, a new leader. Kaori Sakamoto of Japan, skating to the Olympic perennial Moonlight Sonata, landed her jumps and moved past Bradie Tennell by 9 points. Next up though, triple wizard Mirai Nagasu.
Top Skaters are Taking the Ice
With 18 skaters finished, Bradie Tennell, the first of them, is still in the lead. That’s likely to change soon, as the top 12 skaters are taking the ice. Among them is Mirai Nagasu of the United States, who, unlike the rest of the field, is not planning to stop with one triple and a triple-triple combination. After a triple axel and a flip-toeloop combo, Nagasu plans to throw in a triple loop. Land those jumps, and she has the potential to put up a big technical score.
Tennell Still Leads After 12 Skaters
With 12 skaters gone, Bradie Tennell still leads. Once again, a key was that no one could match her scores in the mid-7s in the subjective categories. For the record, those are skating skills, transitions, performance, composition and interpretation of the music.
Some Interesting Music Choices Coming Up
The next dozen or so performers do not include many medal contenders. So attention tends to be drawn to some of the more unusual costume of music choices, good and bad. Attracting attention in the arena is music by AC/DC (Ivett Toth of Hungary, who wore a studded-leather outfit), Beyoncé (Mae Meite of France), and, well, the orgy scene from “Eyes Wide Shut” (Giada Russo of Italy).
After First Six Skaters, Tennell’s in First
You might be surprised to see Bradie Tennell in first place after six skaters despite falling. But Tennell had a high degree of difficulty: The combination on which she fell scored 8.2 points, one of the highest totals so far. She also did very well on subjective categories, like interpretation of the music and “performance,” scoring 7’s while her opponents got 6s and 5s.
Tennell had been a model of consistency this season, landing 31 of her 32 previous jumps flawlessly. After today’s performance, she couldn’t remember the last time she had fallen.
Tennell Goes First
The American Bradie Tennell was the first of the 30 skaters to go, skating to music from the South Korean war film “Taegukgi.”
Tennell is the U.S. national champion, but because of her lack of international experience she was seeded with the weaker skaters at the top of the bill. In the short program, the big requirements are a triple jump and a triple-triple combination. Tennell started with the combo, hitting the triple Lutz, but falling on the triple toeloop. Her triple loop was fine, but the fall will really hurt her chances of a good score and high finish.
“You just have to get up and keep on going as if nothing happened,” Tennell said. “You know, my left arm just got away from me and I just kind of sat down.”
Top Story Lines for the Short Program
• If there is anything to concern Medvedeva’s fans, it is that she broke her foot in November. But she looked sharp in the team event, earlier in the Games, getting comfortably the top score in the short program. She will skate to a Chopin nocturne.
• Her main threat could be her countrywoman, Alina Zagitova, who beat her at the European championships. Zagitova is a double-take worthy 15 years old. At the team event, she was chosen for the free skate and crushed the field, miles ahead of the heralded performance of Mirai Nagasu of the United States. She will skate to music from the film “Black Swan,” which came out in 2010, when she was 8 years old.
• With the one-two punch of Medvedeva and Zagitova, Russia could be looking at its first gold medal of the Games.
• Other medal contenders include the 31-year-old veteran Carolina Kostner of Italy, who has been competing at the Olympics since 2006 and won a bronze four years ago, and Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada, the world silver medalist. Kostner and Osmond finished 2-3 behind Medvedeva in the team event short program.
• The American who has received the most attention is Nagasu, a 2010 Olympian who was passed over for the team in 2014. Her fine team event performance signaled she is back. Karen Chen, 18, was fourth at the world championships last year. Bradie Tennell rounds out the field. She will be the first woman to skate in the field of 30.